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Police debate hardly an arresting sight

Police debate hardly an arresting sight

🕔24.Aug 2012

One of the oddities of our political system is that rivals running for public office rarely, if ever, appear together to debate and answer questions about what they would do if elected.

They prefer, for obvious reasons, to stick to stage managed events in front of their own supporters where suitably anodyne and low-risk discussion can take place.

This is in sharp contrast to the norm 100 years or so ago, when extremely lively  meetings attended by candidates were a feature of elections for public office.

No great surprise, therefore, that the Conservative candidate for West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, Matt Bennett, failed to persuade his opponents to join him in a series of public debates in the run up to polling day on November 15.

Bennett was quick to label Labour candidate Bob Jones a “chicken” for turning down the chance to debate vital issues on a shared platform. Jones explained that he wouldn’t have time to fit in any more hustings, which given Bennett’s proposal for 14 public meetings in the space of little more than two months does at least have a ring of truth to it.

The words stones and glass houses spring to mind here. Matt Bennett was until recently a Birmingham city councillor and a member of the Conservative group which refused to publish a manifesto setting out policy proposals for the May local elections. The Tories’ coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, similarly snubbed electors by failing to produce a manifesto.

Mr Jones, a Wolverhampton city councillor, must realise that there is nothing he can gain from submitting to public debate with all of the PCC contenders. He is the clear favourite to win the contest. It would be astonishing if Labour could not engineer enough votes across the West Midlands to come a clear first despite the likely very low turnout.

The one exception to the no-debate rule in recent times, the televised discussions between Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg during the 2010 General Election, demonstrated exactly why Labour and the Conservatives have always rejected appeals by minority parties to stage live debates. Mr Clegg may have something of an different record since becoming Deputy Prime Minister, but he proved adept at convincing a television audience and saw support for the Liberal Democrats shoot up accordingly.

Here is Matt Bennett’s press release commenting on his request to stage public debates:

“Last week I challenged the other PCC candidates to a series of public debates across the West Midlands. As everyone is concerned about the turnout in this election I thought it would be a good way of making sure residents across the whole area were able to hear the candidates set out their stalls and challenge one another. I proposed we have two per local authority area – fourteen in total.

“I’ve had no response from most of the other candidates but Labour’s Bob Jones has turned down the proposal. His agent tells me that “his many PCC election commitments ….will make it difficult for him to accommodate any additional hustings”.

“So there we have it. Bob Jones, who most commentators assume is the front runner in this race, does not wish to take the debates out to the public and is too busy to fit in more hustings. But this is not a surprise. Bob has been on the Police Authority for twenty-seven years and has spent most of the time sitting in meetings nodding through whatever the Chief Constable wanted.

“He has not bothered to engage with the public and debate the issues for 27 years, so he’s not likely to start now. And how often would we see him if he won? The chances are he’d spend most of his time in his office, doing what he does best – nodding.

“Clearly Bob doesn’t think it’s in his best interests for too many residents to see him debating in the flesh. But in any case, I’ll be holding my own public meetings – details will follow shortly.”


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